The Glory & Goodness of Clerical Marriage

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Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 1Timothy 4:1-3

A quote from Scott Manetsch on one of the most enduring legacies of the Protestant Reformation:

Few theological convictions of the sixteenth-century Protestant reformers had greater impact on the structure of early modern European society than that regarding the goodness of clerical marriage. The pastor’s household as an institution was birthed in the 1520s and 1530s, as evangelical church leaders in Germany and Switzerland began to defy canon law and Catholic tradition by renouncing vows of celibacy and taking wives. In their sermons and published writings, but also in their own marriages, reformers like Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Luther, and (somewhat later) John Calvin challenged the medieval church’s teaching that the celibate, contemplative life was superior to the active life of marriage and family. The magisterial reformers argued that the medieval church’s requirement of clerical celibacy was a human invention that tyrannized the consciences of priests and distorted the Bible’s teaching on the value and proper function of marriage. As Calvin saw it, marriage was a “good and holy ordinance” which God had created and offered to men and women from all walks of life for the purpose of procreating children, restraining fornication, and promoting love between husband and wife. Guillaume Farel concurred, crying out in his Summary and Brief Declaration (c. 1529): “O holy estate of marriage, you who are sullied and dishonored [by the priests]. O brutal world, devoid of all sense and understanding, do you not have eyes? Are you so blind that you grope about at noontime as if you were in utter darkness? Do you think that in our day this holy estate should be prohibited, that it is sin to fulfill the commandment of God?” The construction of clerical marriage brought with it a new identity and new responsibilities for the Protestant minister: his spiritual calling as a “shepherd of souls”  now extended beyond the parish church to his family and household, where he served as husband, father, son-in-law, and paterfamilias. It was expected that the pastor’s household, including his wife and children, should serve as an example to the surrounding community, a model of Christian piety and domestic tranquility for neighbors to emulate. Susan Karant-Nunn has rightly observed, “The home of the pastor and his wife became a symbol of active spirituality second only to the church itself.” Although the magisterial reformers did not mandate marriage for young ministerial candidates, they did anticipate that the majority of evangelical ministers would marry, raise children, and participate in the life of the local community.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation marriage is under attack again though from a different enemy. Fornication, adultery, abortion, sodomy, rampant divorce, purposely fruitless marriages, love of money, love of freedom, love of pleasure, pornography, feminism, and sexual molestation, have all taken a toll on the church’s witness about the goodness of marriage.  We like to blame the world, but in the end the church’s refusal to deal with sexual sin in the pews and the pulpit has been one the greatest factors in the disintegration of marriage in America and Europe. Who is to blame for the carnage? The church. Who leads the church? Her ministers. How can we once again recover the glory of marriage? Ministers should be men and marry, raise children, and participate in the life of the local community. Also ministers should teach, shepherd, counsel, and model sexual faithfulness and the goodness of marriage, as well as correct, rebuke, and if necessary excommunicate those who are sexually immoral. Just like in the 1500s if we want another reformation of marriage it will occur through the faithful teaching and lives of ministers.

Parental Consent to Marriage in Geneva

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In most cultures parental involvement in a child’s marriage was a given. Children assumed that the approval, especially of the father, was good and in  many cases necessary for a marriage to move forward. Geneva was no different. Eight of the first ten articles in Geneva’s 1546 Marriage Ordinance were devoted to parental consent. The prominence of parental consent issues in this document show the importance of the doctrine to John Calvin. Here is a summary of those eight articles.

1. Any son under twenty and daughter under eighteen years of age had to have the father’s consent to marry. After that age they were free to marry whom they wished though the father’s consent was still desirable. Continue reading

A Husband Must Maintain His Authority

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In my last post from William Gouge I quoted him on how a husband’s love for his wife is the foundation for all his duties. We are not surprised to find this emphasis in Gouge. Modern evangelical husbands are frequently exhorted to love their wives, which of course is good and right. However, Gouge’s next section might come as a bit of a surprise. If you remember the title of this chapter is, “A Husband’s Affectionate Authority over His Wife.” The affection part we get. The authority over part we have a harder time with. But for Gouge love is expressed through a husband’s authority. A husband cannot properly love his wife if he is not maintaining and exercising authority.

All the branches which grow out of this root of love as they cover the husband’s duties, may be drawn to two heads

  1. A wise maintaining of his authority.
  2. A right managing of the same.

That these two are branches of a husband’s love, is evident by the place in which God has set him, which is a place of authority; for the best good that any can do, are those which are done in his own proper  position, and by virtue of it.  If then a husband relinquishes his authority, he takes away his ability to do that good, and show those fruits of love which he otherwise might. If he abuses his authority, he turns the edge and point of his sword in the wrong direction. Instead of holding it over his wife for her protection, he stabs her body to her destruction, and so show by it more hatred than love.

We all get Gouge’s last two sentences. We frequently hear about how husbands are not to use their authority to abuse their wives. This was a problem in Gouge’s day as well and he rebukes it soundly throughout the book.  Continue reading

A Husband’s Love for His Wife in All Things

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Can love and authority be combined? For many today the answer is no. Authority is about power and control, not love. Love is about giving people the freedom to do what they want and be who they want to be. But in Scripture authority and love are not enemies. William Gouge, in the first chapter of his book where he addresses husbands, does a wonderful job of weaving together love and authority.  In this post I want to look at his description of a husband’s love for his wife. He begins the chapter by explaining that because the husband has authority he is more accountable.

As a wife is to know her duty, so the husband much more his…The higher his position the more knowledge he ought to have in how to walk worthy of it. Neglect of duty in him is more dishonorable to God, because by virtue of his position he is “the image and glory of God” (I Cor. 11:7), and more destructive not only to his wife, but also to the whole family because of that power and authority he has.

A basic principle of Scripture is that authority brings greater responsibility and therefore greater judgment should it be misused. But the assumption here is that there is such a thing as authority. Without authority there cannot be greater responsibility. Gouge then moves to the principle command to husbands, that of love.

The head of the rest [of his duties], love, is plainly set down and alone mentioned in this [Ephesians 5:25] and many other places in Scripture, whereby it is evident that all other duties are included under it…in this place love  is expressed four times beside that it is implied under many other terms and phrases. Whoever therefore takes a wife, must…love her. Many good reasons for this may be given:

  1. Because no duty on the husband’s part can be rightly performed except it be seasoned by love. The apostle exhorts all Christians to do all things in love (I Cor. 16:14, much more ought husbands. Though in position they are above their wives, love may not be forgotten.
  2. Because of all persons on earth a wife is the most proper object of love. Neither friend, nor child, nor parent ought to be so loved as his wife. She is termed, “the wife of thy bosom” (Deut 13:6), to show that she ought to be as his heart in his bosom.
  3. Because his high position and power of authority may soon puff him up, and make him abuse his wife and trample her under his feet, if an entire love of her is not planted in his heart. To keep him from abusing his authority, love is so much pressed upon him.
  4. Because wives through weakness of their sex (for they are the weaker vessels) are much more prone to provoke their husbands. So as if love is not ruling the husband there is likely to be but little peace between husband and wife. Love covers a multitude of imperfections.
  5. Because as Christ by showing first His love stirs up the church to love Him, so a husband by loving his wife should stir up her to love in return.

Here are a few other quotes from this section on a husband loving his wife.

Their position is a position of authority, which without love will soon turn into tyranny. Their responsibility is especially and above all, to seek the good of their wives. Because wives are the most important and greatest responsibility of husbands, so their most vigorous and greatest care must be for them.

This affection of love is a distinct duty in itself, especially belonging to the husband, and also a common condition which must be joined to every other duty of a husband, to season and sweeten them. His look, his speech, his conduct, and all his actions, in which he has to do with his wife, must be seasoned with love. Love must show itself in his commandments, in his reproofs, in his instructions, in his admonitions, in his authority, in his familiarity, when they are alone together, when they are in company before others, in civil affairs, in religious matters, at all times, in all things.

Neither is it sufficient for a husband to not hate his wife for even the lack of love, though it be only the absence of good is a great vice and contrary also to the duty of love.

For how can he who does not love his wife (whom God has given to him as a token of His favor, and as a help meet for him, to be in his bosom and ever in his sight, even to be no longer two, but one flesh), love God whom he has not seen (I John 4:20)? If any many says he loves God and hates his wife, he is a liar.

In short a man must love his wife.  Without love for his wife all deeds will rot. Without love his kisses are hypocrisy. What does Gouge mean by love? A good window into his meaning is the title of this chapter, “A Husband’s Affectionate Authority over His Wife.” I am not sure if the chapter titles are original, but it hits the bulls-eye.  Love is affection for your wife that is like yeast, which works its way through the entire relationship.  Every interaction and deed is flavored with love. Gouge compares it to salt, which makes all things taste good.

But can love coexist with power and authority? You will notice that Gouge frequently refers to the husband’s authority throughout the post.  To our modern ears this will sound strange. Authority and tyranny are virtual synonyms that are opposed by love and freedom. However, in our next post Gouge will not only say love and authority go together, but he will argue that to love his wife a husband must exercise his authority. His love does not result in him stepping back and letting his household go. Rather the fruit of love is the wise exercise of his authority.

Calvin on Children’s Obedience to Wicked Fathers

Here is a quote from a sermon John Calvin preached on Acts 7:51. Note that this is a sermon preached before all the people on a Sunday morning.

If fathers want to constrain their children to do evil, the children must bear in mind that they have on Father in heaven, whom they are to obey because, as Paul says, he is the Father of bodies and souls (I Thess. 5:23). Therefore, children must obey their fathers, but according to God’s will. For from the moment fathers encroach upon God’s honor, the children must not in this instance obey them any more than they would the devil.

Porn is Barren

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A good reminder from Pastor Douglas Wilson in his book Father Hunger.  Too many men want sex without children. Obviously this applies to porn, but it also applies to purposely barren marriages.

One of the things that should be most obvious to a man about the women involved in pornography is that such images, however appealing a man may find them, are images that can present him with no children. They are barren. They flaunt their breasts, but they will never nurse the children of those who gawk with them. The men who pursue such women are men who want such barrenness; they find it a selling point. Another way of saying this is that they don’t want to be fathers. They want the privileges of sexual release (after a fashion) but without the responsibilities that God’s wisdom necessarily attached to these pleasures.

Lost Boys Need Marriage, a Trade, and Worship

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Samuel James, working with research from Erik Hurst, gives a bleak picture of manhood in the 21st century in his article on America’s Lost BoysThe article is worth your time.

Young men, significantly more so than young women, are stuck in life. Research released in May from the Pew Center documented a historic demographic shift: American men aged 18-30 are now statistically more likely to be living with their parents than with a romantic partner. This trend is significant, for one simple reason: Twenty- and thirtysomething men who are living at home, working part-time or not at all, are unlikely to be preparing for marriage. Hurst’s research says that these men are single, unoccupied, and fine with that—because their happiness doesn’t depend on whether they are growing up and living life.

Several thoughts occurred to me as I read the article.

First, there are numerous reasons why we are in the predicament this article describes. But one of the key reasons is sex divorced from marriage and procreation. We need to return to marriage as a public good and something to be desired and children as one of the goals of marriage. Churches and politicians need to teach and model the glory of marriage, not as a idol that will provide you with personal fulfillment, but as a way to create a productive family unit that will benefit the home, the church, and society at large. There are few things as dangerous, exciting, and ultimately productive as starting a family.  Of course, this is hard when Dad has been divorced twice and his children are scattered all over. But here is where the gospel comes in. Christ restores, heals, and strengthens relationships. In world filled with lies and cheap substitutes, the church must lead in helping young people who have lost faith that marriage can be done well and be good to understand and see the good in getting married, having sex with one woman for your whole life, raising kids, and showing up at work every day.

Second, we need to get young men involved in the trades.  We have been taught a four year degree or more is the goal for all men. Thus many men who do not finish college or high school believe they are failures. If success looks like four years in a lecture hall followed by low job prospects and tens of thousands in debt many young men decide to forego college all together. They used have an honorable option: get a good trade skill and serve your fellow man. But now they are viewed as failures by our society. When is the last time a politician pushed the trades to a high school audience? They push college. That is a shame.

 “Hurst says that his research indicates that young men with less than a four-year degree (according to virtually all data, that’s an increasing number) are spending their days unemployed and unmarried, but not un-amused.”

More young men need to be taught to fix cars, weld, build houses, plumb, fix electrical, and drive trucks. They should be given a trade-school education and be taught that this is not a step down from the really important work such as law, engineering, and medicine. It is really important work because it serves your fellow man. Part of this goes back to my first point. If the goal of our vocation is to make money, have a certain reputation, and be self-fulfilled then fixing cars would be down the list of desirable vocations. But if the goal of work is to serve others and provide for a wife and children then trade-school vocations should be just a popular as four year degrees. They often earn more, they earn more quicker, and those who learn trades usually come out of school with less debt.

Finally, the last paragraph has this sentence in it,

“Rather than try to attract these millennials by reshaping faith in the image of entertainment, we as Christians should offer a gospel that saves not only from hell but also from meaninglessness.”

James is talking about our faith in general, but my mind went directly to worship. Do we try to reshape worship in the image of our entertainment driven culture? Is our worship baptized pop-culture? And just as important does church life and the worship promote passivity? Do we call the worshiper to engage their heart, mind, and body or do we allow them to spectate? Does the fellowship in our churches allow members to drift in on Sunday and leave one hour later with little commitment, little push to serve?  All Christians suffer when our worship reflects the world instead of the Lord’s priorities. But men especially suffer in our current worship environment that is driven by emotionalism, theologically shallow, low commitment (just like porn), and often led by men who act like women.  Does our worship feed the adolescent fantasy described by James or does it offer an alternative?

Boys are lost in this world. Truth be told most men are as well. The good news is that the Scriptures, creation order, and our fathers in the past provide a way forward. It will not be easy. The devastation of the sexual revolution and the abdication or abuse of so many biological fathers, church fathers, and political fathers has left a parched landscape with little sign of water. But our job is not to count the obstacles, but to do the job. We must help these boys find their way again.